22 September 2017

Ethiopia: A Little About Debre Damo Monastery

Photo: Giustino/Wikimedia Commons
Debre Damo monastery in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is very marvelous country which is endowed with natural and manmade treasures. The country is the origin of humanity where the 3.5 million years hominid, Lucy-- believed to be the first human ancestor was discovered. Besides, the nation has the ancient civilization of Aksumite Kingdom, one of the world's four strong ancient civilizations ever occurred. The Aksumite civilization had inherited its invaluable architectural style for generations. One of the masterpieces of the kingdom is a monastery called Debre Damo.

The monastery located in the northern part of the country, Tigray State, was believed to have been built during the reign of King Gebre Meskel in the 6th century AD. It is on a rising plateau of trapezoidal shape, about 1,000 by 400 meters in dimension, and an elevation of 2,216 meters above sea level. You have to climb up to the cliff of the plateau tied to a leather rope on the waist. A strong monk then will pull the rope to let you get into a small doorway -- the event may make your blood run cold. But the excitement on the mountain top will tell you that your decision is correct.

The monks who dwell at the monastery will welcome you in a most friendly manner, which gives you more energy. Having conquered the steep cliff, you would be offered with panoramic views of the beautiful fields and mountains of Tigray as well.

Most of the time, the monks spent solitary way of life, and comes out from their dwellings for church sermons only. To make both ends meet, the monks engage themselves in farming and animal rearing activities.

They have dug wells on the top of the rock to retain water. The wells are green, covered by mosses which keep the water pure and drinkable.

Debre Damo has unique architectural style compared with most Ethiopian monasteries. It was built with curved wood panels, painted ceilings and walls dedicated to the legend of Saint (Abune) Aregawi. Abune Aragawi, one of the 'Nine Saints', used to wander standing at the top of the cliff, judged that the plateau above him was a suitable place to live a solitary life and finally made the monastery his abode. That is why the stunning monastery is named after its founder, Abune Aregawi the Debre Damo. Legend has it that Abune Aragawi climbed up the mountain aided by a serpent that took him to the cliff.

The Church's beams and ceiling are beautifully decorated with carved wooden panels depicting lion, elephant, rhinoceros,_snakes, gazelle, antelope, giraffe, and camels and other animals. There are also plenty of saints' pictures including its legendary founder, Abune Aragawi of the Debre Damo. Though fourteen centuries have waved on the monetary, the monastery's incredible features are still well preserved.

Debre Damo is amazing in terms of its location and extensive collection of priceless manuscripts that have remained intact until today. As it has been serving for centuries as an Ethiopian orthodox center of teaching, many popes, priests and deacons have also pursued their religious educations at the monastery. Besides, many books have been written there and distributed to churches throughout Ethiopia.

October 14 is dedicated to St. Aregawi, and a massive celebration goes at the place. This is also the ideal time for anyone to plan his/her visit.

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